Bereavement leave not offered to mourners in the province

Death is a natural and sometimes unexpected part of life.

But a review conducted by the Calgary Journal has revealed Alberta is the only province that doesn’t give employees the legal right to have time to grieve and make funeral arrangements.

In other provinces, bereavement leave – which can be paid or unpaid – can be offered for up to 10 days.

Sarah Walker, the executive director of Hospice Calgary says that leave is necessary because when a person experiences death, it can have a profound psychological impact.

*Although not officialy legislated, companies in Ontario that employee 50 or people provide personal emergency leave of up to 10 unpaid days. **Depending on which family member dies, employees in Quebec can get up to four unpaid days off, with one paid day, or in certain case just one paid day. ***One paid day and two unpaid days for immediate family members; up to three unpaid days for extended family in P.E.I. ****One paid day and two unpaid days for employees that have been employed for over 30 days; two unpaid days if employment fewer than 30 days. This map shows the variance in bereavement leave times across Canada. Alberta is the only province without legislated bereavement time, leaving employees vulnerable to the policies set out by their employer.

Infographic by Jordan SimpsonEven planning and organizing a funeral can take a major toll, says Kathy Cloutier of McInnis and Holloway funeral homes.

“You can deal with a person who can’t stop sobbing, who is very angry that it’s a sudden death or someone who becomes angry at everybody: the paramedics, the cops, the other members of their family, the deceased or the funeral director just because they have to deal with it.”

Dan McKinnon, a registered psychologist, says such grief can have a negative effect on workplace performance.

He says that grief “lessens the ability to focus, it isolates you and it can lead to poor decision making.”

To adopt or not to adopt

McKinnon is among those who believe bereavement leave is necessary.

“It’s very important that Alberta and employees provide some type of healing space for anyone who is going through a major health concern like grief,” he says.

However, Walker says that when she talked with people in the government about bereavement, the response has been “that the government didn’t need to put it in legislation because employers would do the right thing.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong says such leave is a completely reasonable thing put into employment standards.

“People who have lost loved ones have challenges in being able to attend to work in the immediate aftermath and so they should have a sub-standard that employers should apply.”

But not everyone feels that way.

Brett Watson, the manager of South Calgary Funeral Services, says “Most companies offer bereavement leave and it doesn’t really make a difference if it’s legislated or not.”

Cloutier, relations manager with McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes, agrees with Watson, since most people are able to take time off from work, anyway.

As for the government, Alberta Human Resources public affairs officer Jay Fisher confirmed there are no plans to change the situation.

Furlong does not expect there to be any.

“It’s a social contract type of thing that doesn’t naturally flow from Conservative philosophy.”

pliwski@cjournal.ca

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